romance

MAN UP

man-up-movie

2015 – When chronically single Nancy (Lake Bell) is mistaken for divorcee Jack’s (Simon Pegg) blind date, she decides to play along.  

If you’re looking for a clever, touching alternative to the execrable Silver Linings Playbook – a movie that doesn’t coddle its characters or talk down to its audience, a movie that’s dialogue-heavy but never feels tedious, a movie about real feelings and not trite Hollywood angst – look no further.

The real enjoyment of watching a romantic comedy is being able to picture yourself as one of the leads. If done properly, you should be thinking, “Hey, I’m not terrible-looking and have a sense of humor! If I played my cards right, this same thing could happen to me!” Man Up presents a dating scene that should be all too familiar to 30-somethings, a place where disappointment, divorce, and the inevitable cynicism are all too common.

Just about everyone can relate to Nancy’s situation in the opening scenes: forced into a disastrous blind date by a few well-intentioned friends. Her sister Elaine (Sharon Horgan) encourages her to keep her chin up and be impulsive. After an encounter with an obnoxiously chipper 20-something (Ophelia Lovibond), Nancy decides to do exactly that and allows an improbable string of circumstances to connect her with Jack. As you might expect, their date goes better than either of them could have expected… until an obsessed ex-neighbor and a vindictive ex-wife arrive on the scene.

The film takes place pretty close to “real time,” encompassing the events of one afternoon and evening. While a modest run-time helps keep the movie taut and crisp, it also helps itself by continually upping the stakes. While we enjoy watching the two leads move through their awkward first date conversations, we’re also kept in suspense by one sub-plot after another: will Jack find out that Nancy isn’t the “Jessica” he was expecting? Will creepy stalker Sean (Rory Kinnear) mess things up? Will Nancy make it in time for the speech at her parents’ 40th anniversary party?

Man Up is definitely written with a certain Generation X audience in mind – people in their 30s and early 40s who have been through the dating ringer, have faced ruined relationships and even failed marriages, and are yearning for the kind of connection their parents seemed to have. Millennials, a lot of whom live in broken households and think a “relationship” is three dates with someone you met on Tinder, won’t get it.

It also toes the line between a traditional romantic comedy and the more popular gross-out humor of today. There are a few scenes, mostly featuring the Sean character, that just don’t jive with the  overall tone of the movie. These slight inconsistencies are like the off notes that the doomed flutist was playing in Red Dragon in that they made me take notice, but fortunately not enough for me to want to butcher and eat someone.

Things recover quickly, though, thanks mainly to how charming Bell and Pegg are in their respective roles. There isn’t a lot of screaming and wailing, but there is a lot to appreciate about the acting. Paired with an overall positive tone and a strong cast of supporting characters, it’s enough to push Man Up into the must-see echelon on Netflix.

SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK – 9/30/14

2012 -Mentally unstable people scream at each other for two hours.

Nobody smiles in the actual movie.

Nobody smiles in the actual movie.

Having a psychological illness is trendy. Did you know that? Well, it’s trendy if you have one of the “good” illnesses, like depression or bipolar disorder. Those are the ones that attractive, stylish people have. In this movie, being bipolar just means you’re adorably awkward and speak your mind (unlike the repressed, PHONY non-mentally-ill people) and maybe punch your dad in the face now and again, but who doesn’t?

Silver Linings Playbook Bradley CooperEEEEEH, OOOOOH, I’M PAT! SUNDAYS USED TO BE GREAT, HUH? MOM WOULD MAKE BRACIOLE BECAUSE EEEH, OOOH, WE’RE AN ITAAAAAAALIAN FAMILY, HUH? BUT NOW LIFE SUCKS ‘CUZ MY WIFE WAS CHEATIN’ ON ME AND I WAS IN THE NUTHOUSE FOR EIGHT MONTHS AND I’M BIPOLAR AND DON’T TAKE MY MEDICAAAAATIOOOOON!

Silver Linings Playbook De NiroEEEEEH, OOOOOH, CALM DOWN SON! I’M BOBBY DE NIRO, HUH? I MEAN, UH, I’M PAT SR.! OOOOOH, I’M AN ITALIAN DAD, SO OF COURSE I HAVE AN ILLEGAL BOOKMAKING BUSINESS! MY SON’S A NUT AND I LOVE THE EAGLES AND HAVE A TON OF CRAZY SUPERSTITIONS ABOUT THE GAME! EEEEEH, WATCH THE BIRDS WITH ME, SON! C’MOOOOON!

Silver Linings Playbook Sopranos guyEEEEEH, OOOOOH, COOL IT THERE BOBBY! I’M RANDY, BUT YOU MAY REMEMBER ME FROM HBO’S THE SOPRANOS! I’M ALSO ITAAAAALIAN, AND I’M ALSO A BOOKMAKER! PAT SR. WANTS TO USE HIS CRIME MONEY TO OPEN A RESTAURANT, BUT HE’S GOTTA WIN A FEW BETS WITH ME FIRST!

Silver Linings Playbook Jennifer LawrenceFUUUUUUCK YOUUUUUU, REST OF THE CAST! I’M TIFFANY, AND I’M JUST AS CRAZY IF NOT CRAZIER THAN PAT! MY HUSBAND’S DEAD AND I SLEEP AROUND AND PAT’S AN ASSHOLE FOR WANTING TO GET BACK WITH HIS WIFE! I WANT HIM TO BE MY PARTNER IN A DANCE CONTEST! AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!!!

Silver Linings Playbook Chris TuckerWHAT DUH FUUUUUU – I’M CHRIS TUCKER, Y’ALL! HOW IN DA HELL DID I GET IN THIS MOVIE? WHY DA HELL IS MY CHARACTER EVEN IN IT? DO I DO ANYTHING? NO? OKAY! SHIT!

If you’re into movies where people yell and scream at each other while loud music plays, this is the one for you! It was evidently the first since 1981 to be nominated for the four acting Oscar categories and the first since 2004 to be nominated for the “big five.” I’d give it a “C.”

The plot involves Pat’s quest to get back with his wife after catching her cheating on him and nearly beating her lover to death. He moves back in with his parents and strikes up an extremely unlikely friendship/flirt-ship with Tiffany, his friend’s wife’s widowed sister. In exchange for smuggling letters to his wife, who has a restraining order against him, Tiffany convinces Pat to enter a dance competition with her. After some close-up shots of her jiggling breasts and butt, it’s clear that Pat’s starting to fall for her.

During Oscar season, the real “money” clips from this movie were of the shouting scenes, and there certainly are a lot to select from. Jennifer Lawrence screaming at Bradley Cooper on the street, Bradley Cooper yelling at his parents in the attic. Pat goes to visit Jennifer and meets her parents. Shouting. Pat goes to an Eagles game. Shouting. Pat comes home from the Eagles game. Additional shouting. The family relationships are more absurdly dysfunctional than an episode of Dr. Phil.

My big problem with this movie started about 88 minutes in, when the most contrived scenario imaginable gets in gear. Pat Sr. bets ALL of his bookmaking money on the outcome of an Eagles game, convinced that Pat’s “good luck” presence at the stadium will guarantee a win. Unfortunately Pat gets into a scrap with some racist Eagles fans (you know the type), not just “causing” the Birds to lose but also missing his dance practice with Jennifer. He returns home and all hell breaks loose – Pat Sr. screaming “IT’S ALL FUCKIN’ RUINED! YOU’RE A FUCKIN’ LOSER!” at his son, everyone else in the room screaming over each other, and then Tiffany busting in to scream at Pat for missing their date.

Suddenly the whole “crisis” of the movie hinges on the fact that Pat Sr. thinks Tiffany is a “jinx” on the Eagles. So Tiffany, who hates football, rattles off the score of every single game in order to prove that she’s actually good luck. Everyone stands around with the most obvious “Wow… impressive” looks on their faces. The scene is going for a “girl power beat-down” vibe so obviously that it hurts.

Silver Linings Playbook NiceBut we don’t stop there! Rival bookmaker Randy agrees to give Pat Sr. a shot at getting his money back – staking it all on the outcome of another Eagles game as well as Pat and Tiffany’s dance contest. Come on. Just… come on. All things considered, I’d rank Silver Linings Playbook as the second best high-stakes-dance-contest-dependent plot I’ve seen (behind 1966’s Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster).

I’m a sucker for cute love stories. This one could have been solid, but it needed to be 40 minutes shorter, 30 decibels lower, and one Chris Tucker less. In the plus column, if you enjoy hearing 60-something guys argue about football and can’t listen to talk radio, this movie will more than satisfy your cravings.

ZOMBIE MOVIE DOUBLE FEATURE – 7/21/14

Dead Snow – 2009

A ski vacation turns horrific for a group of medical students, as they find themselves confronted by an unimaginable menace*: Nazi zombies.

*I can imagine the menace pretty well.

This is one of those movies where the zombies run and make animal noises. I’m a purist: I prefer the ones that shamble and moan. It’s also a Norwegian movie, which I’ve loved since Trollhunter. There’s just something about that dialect that grabs me and won’t let go.

It was pretty hard to figure out what the characters’ names were, so I named them by their basic character traits: Cool Guy, Nerd Guy, Fat Guy, Joke Guy (males), Blond, Brunette and Hippie (females). Oh, and Cool Guy’s girlfriend, who gets killed in the first two minutes, is Sara. Everyone is heading up to Cool Guy’s cabin for generic goofing and boozing. Conveniently, a grim mountain man shows up to warn them that a ruthless gang of Nazis fled to this area with all their ill-gotten WWII booty and froze to death. Turns out that their loot (which fits into one container the size of a cigar box) is hidden right beneath the cabin. (Insert wacky trombone sound effect)

The first 45 minutes are actually pretty effective, with just the right mix of atmosphere, build-up and gore. Just a few notes: can we NOT have horror movies where the characters discuss other horror movies? Scream came out in 1996. We don’t still need to be doing it. There’s also an odd scene where the Nerd sits on the Hippie’s hands, blindfolds her, and starts to smother her with a pillow. I’m not even trying to be funny – I don’t understand the point of it. It’s almost as weird as the later scene where Cool Guy eats a sandwich that is comprised of one piece of bread and a slice of cheese.

WHAT IS THIS???

WHAT IS THIS???

The Nazi zombies use their own brand of BEAST VISION:

I'm not impressed.

I’m not impressed.

The best scene in the movie revolves entirely around the outhouse (I often find this to be the case). Fat Guy stands up, and the following dialog is heard: “I’m going for a shit.” “Best of luck!” It’s solid gold. Fat declares, “I’ll be back” in English, which sounds weird. He does his business and has time for ONE WIPE of toilet paper before Brunette enters, mounts him, and presumably does the whole deal right there on the seat. I just couldn’t get over the fact that he only wiped once. The odds were really against him getting everything on the first pass.

Unfortunately, the final 45 minutes really fall flat. When the Nazi zombies show up in force, they start to lose all their creativity. They do the “let one of the survivors see the dead friend’s head” gag, and they go to the well on the “a bunch of zombies grabs a guy and tears him apart” thing TWICE. They also appear to be brimming with fresh blood and viscera, judging by the stuff they’re constantly spewing out of their mouths. That’s odd, if they’ve been frozen up there for 70+ years.

Things jump the shark when the Boss Zombie (Orjan Gamst) shows up and starts using BINOCULARS to direct his zombie troops (including a squad of mini-boss SS zombies). Then it vaults the whale when the Boss Zombie leans back and bellows “ARISE!” to summon more zombies from the snow to help him.

...Okay.

…Okay.

In terms of overall quality, I enjoyed this Nazi-oriented feature a lot more than Captain American: The First Avenger. They actually showed swastikas in this one.

Last Love – 2013

A look at the life-changing connection between a retired and widowed* American philosophy professor and a young Parisian woman.

*And zombified.

This is one of those movies where the zombies talk. I’m a traditionalist: I like my zombies inarticulate. Then again, this is definitely not your typical zombie movie.

I have to hand it to this one: they don’t wait a second before getting down to the zombie action.

The embodiment of living death.

The embodiment of living death.

WHAM! The first shot is of our main zombie. I don’t know how they got him to do it, but Michael Caine is without a doubt the most distinguished actor to ever portray a zombie (even more than Dead Snow‘s Orjan Gamst). Our very first scene shows him crouched over his last victim (I presume). It’s apparently his wife, which really adds a tragic element to the story. He’s so intent upon trying to feast on her corpse that policemen literally have to drag him away. “I won’t leave her!” he snarls. “I won’t leave her!” Caine is truly one of our finest actors; he convinced me that he was a bloodthirsty monster.

As one might expect, Caine’s portrayal of the living dead is a little different than what we might be used to. He talks (although it’s definitely a mumble-y kind of talking), dresses himself and goes out to restaurants. I guess this is supposed to be sad, seeing the zombie still retaining enough of its humanity to go about its daily routine. The weird thing – this is a French movie, after all – is that people don’t seem phased by having a shuffling, saggy-looking old zombie in their midst. Is this a commentary on how we are all, in a sense, zombies? It’s a little over my head.

One complaint: this movie moves much too slowly. When Caine begins stalking his next victim – a young woman named Pauline – it takes him forever. He moves in with halting, awkward conversation, gaining her trust, I guess trying to lure her away on her own. But Caine appears to retain some scraps of morality – it’s almost as though he doesn’t want to kill her. You can tell he’s struggling with himself not to get too close, as though the smell of her young, vital flesh might be enough to send him over the edge.

The predator and its prey.

The predator and its prey.

There’s also an older woman that he stalks for the first third of the film, but he’s more interested in the younger Pauline. The older lady disappears eventually, and I have to conclude that Caine ate her.

This movie is a real mind-bender. Oddly, Pauline seems almost hypnotized by the specter of death constantly lurking around her. Then again, is not death itself seductive? I was on the edge of my seat for literally every scene where they were alone, wondering whether this was the moment that Caine would bite her throat out. Actually the body count was a little on the light side for a zombie film… Caine doesn’t even butcher her boyfriend.

They missed out on a lot of chances for great zombie moments. When Caine decides to shave his beard, I wanted to see him shaving off little bits of his flesh, too, and I figured the next scene would be him shambling along, blood dripping down his chin, teeth showing through his ravaged cheeks. But they really skimped on the special effects and makeup.

Make note: Last Love features the only romantic boating scene in a zombie movie.

Things really go off the rails in the second half of the film. Caine attempts suicide, but instead of blowing his brains out, he takes pills. No wonder it doesn’t work. His son and daughter show up, and it’s almost as though it becomes some sort of French absurdist comedy. I didn’t like it. The son and daughter do seem mad about Caine killing their mother (or at least they’re mad about something), but why are they so casual about the situation? They make nary an attempt to slay him. It really strains credibility.

My interest was re-awakened, however, when we see that the SON is also moving in on Pauline. Woah. What a twist, right? Even though I didn’t fully understand it – is the son supposed to be a zombie too? – I loved it. The two of them are clearly locking horns over who gets to feast on Pauline’s organs. Despite my hope for a real zombie vs. zombie battle to close things out, the ending was still touching. With what is perhaps the last vestige of his human feelings, Caine gives up his last victim – his last love, if you will – to his son. The film ends with the son escorting Pauline into the distance where, I must assume, he slaughters her.

The haunting final image of "Last Love."

The haunting final image of “Last Love.”

If you ask me, these films could have benefited from a little name swapping. Dead Snow should have become Last Snow, and Last Love should have been called Dead Love. Honestly, it would have reinforced the whole zombie aspect, which was a little hard to pick up on if you weren’t looking for it.

DON JON – 5/19/14

2013. Disgusting.

This movie is gross. The theme is gross. The accents are annoying and gross. Tony Danza in a wife-beater is really, really gross. I was repulsed in a very visceral way during almost every minute of this film. I’m glad I decided to watch it.

The titular Jon (Joseph Gordon-Levitt – more like Joseph Gordon LEAVE-it! As in LEAVE this movie! RIMSHOT! Some Mad Magazine-style hilarity there) is a Pauly D-type guy with a reputation as a Casanova. You can picture this character without even seeing the movie – he drives a muscle car, he has big pecs, his hair is always slicked back, etc etc. Unsurprisingly, the movie is set in New Jersey.

Can I ask – when did the state of New Jersey become cool? Is it because the obese governor goes on late-night talk shows? Is it because there’s a (noisy, crowded, expensive, storm-ravaged) beach there? New Jersey is to the rest of America what MLS is to sports – nobody likes it, nobody really sees it, but there seems to be a concerted effort to ram it down our throats. While we’re at it, when did Tony Danza become cool? How does he keep getting work?

Sorry. Anyway, Jon has sex with numerous women (which he “humorously” confesses to his priest throughout the movie), but what he really loves is pornography. When he meets Barbara (Scarrllett Johhannssonn), however, he falls head-over-heels for her. He gives up his womanizing and, because she really hates it, he tries to give up watching porn. Knowing that, you know what the big complication is – she finds out he still watches it by looking at his browser history, which he apparently had no idea about.

This twist is not only predictable but dumb, too. Why? Because there was a lengthy exchange earlier in the movie where Jon chides his dad (Tony Danza) for not knowing what TiVo is. So he’s aware of TiVo, but not that there’s a browser history? He owns a Mac! How does he not know about browser history?!?

While things are going south with Barbara, Jon meets Esther (Julianne Moore). Her character seems to have no purpose at first, but since she’s on the movie poster, it’s pretty obvious what happens. I don’t want to give anything away, but I’ll basically give everything away: Jon ends up with Esther in the end, because they “really connect” over the fact that her husband and son died in a car crash the previous year. Romance! Joseph Gordon-Levitt is 33. Julianne Moore is 54. The intense sex scene between the two of them nearly gave me the dry heaves.

What inspired Joseph Gordon-Levitt to make a movie where the main issues are pornography and masturbation?* Why do we have to suffer through the horrendous Jersey accents? Has society degenerated so far that the exciting revelation for our hero is “meaningless sex isn’t good?” Even as he burns in Hell, I’m pretty sure Osama Bin Laden sees this movie as proof that he really was right about American culture.

The producer is named Ram Bergman, which is one of the coolest names I’ve ever seen.

People in this movie use the term “smash” as slang for having sex. That’s awkward, because I use “smash” as slang for taking a dump.

*I know, you could argue that the movie is about how porn sets up unrealistic expectations for guys just like romantic movies set them up for girls, etc… but the number of scenes devoted to JGL posted up at his laptop surely dwarf any that might have been spent developing a “deeper” theme.